Let me tell you a story. I arrived in Lisbon at lunchtime, tired and ravenous. My first priority was food, so I set out with the intention of finding a nice seafood restaurant with a view.
At this point, I didn’t know my way around the city. I didn’t know the good parts from the bad, or the cheap from the expensive. So, I found a restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area on one of the main strips leading down to the waterfront, and thumbed through their plastic menu complete with not-very-appealing pictures of the dishes. As a general rule – and I knew this – the busier the place, the more expensive it’s likely to be (also as a general rule – and I knew this, too – don’t eat in a place where they have pictures of the food).
I was still shocked, though, when my modest (and extremely average) cheese and ham toastie and a can of coke came to near on €15. I was expecting Lisbon to be slightly pricier than my previous week in Slovenia, but this was way out of my budget.
Definitely not the place I unfortunately ate at on my first day in Lisbon
Luckily, this didn’t set the tone for my trip. If you’re wise and sensible (and don’t try to find a restaurant when you’re absolutely about to eat the next thing you see whether it’s edible or not) you can actually enjoy your time in Lisbon without having to count your coppers every five minutes.
Some things you should watch out for if you want to visit Lisbon on the cheap:
Choose where you eat wisely
The food in Lisbon is amazing – if you go to the right places. I don’t want anyone to have the same experience as I did with that cheese and ham toastie that should have been made of gold for the price it cost.
Some of the best scallops I’ve ever eaten
First of all, I downloaded a few apps like TripAdvisor and Spotted By Locals for Lisbon (I’m in no way affiliated with these brands – they just helped me eat well), and scanned them for great, quirky places to eat. Apps that pinpoint your location and show you restaurants in the vicinity save you the hassle of walking around, hungry, for hours on end (which inevitably leads to you ending up, like I did, in the closest, but definitely not the best, place).
It’s sensible to have a back-up plan as well because, especially in summer, the restaurants in Lisbon can get packed-out quickly.
I have to admit; I found a couple of amazing, reasonably priced places to eat that I went back to. One of these was Cruzes Credo, which, no word of a lie, serves the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. And the best prawns. And the best red and white Sangria. It’s set back a bit from the main streets by Lisbon Cathedral, but it is well worth getting a little lost for.
All of the Sangria in Cruzes Credo!
That’s my main tip: there’s a lot of winding alleys in Lisbon stuffed full of great eateries, so wander a little off-track and you’re bound to come across somewhere that doesn’t have illustrated menus and doesn’t charge a fortune for the most basic of dishes.
Know how the transport system works
Lisbon is a fairly large city, sprawling out across a number of different areas. It’s possible to walk around but, what with all the dangerously steep hills, there’s going to be a point where you just do not want to take another step. Trust me. I love walking around cities, but my legs were crying out for help by the third day.
Luckily, Lisbon has a great transport system called Carris, which is made up of trams, buses, trains, and a metro. Individually, journeys aren’t particularly cheap – you’re looking at €1.80 for a bus journey, €2.85(!) for a tram ride, €1.40 for a metro journey, and anything from €2 for a train ride depending on your destination – but you can get a day pass for all of these for €6, which means you can hop on and off any form of transport all day long. Great if you want to pack a lot into a day.
The trams in Lisbon are works of art
Recently, Carris brought in a card called a Viva Viagem ticket, which you have to have in order to use the metro and train services (it also works for the trams and buses, too, but you can pay for those on-board as well). You can pick up a Viva Viagem card from any station and it costs €0.50, and then you top up as you go.
I have two tips here: firstly, don’t lose your Viva Viagem card as you end up having to pay €0.50 every time you want to take a journey (it adds up) and secondly, buying a Viva Viagem card in the first place can be a bit confusing if you want to buy more than one. Make sure you are topping up each card separately, because I came across a few people who topped up one card and tried to use it between two people – this is not okay, apparently.
Visit museums on a Sunday
Lisbon is literally rammed full of museums. There seems to be one around every corner and, more often that not, they charge for entry (anywhere from €2 up). However, visit on a Sunday before 2pm and you get in completely free. There’s a challenge: how many museums can you squeeze into a morning?
The Berardo Museum in Belem
Don’t stay in a hotel
I’ve avoided staying in hotels for a long time now because I find they are unnecessarily expensive, mainly because they charge by the night.
I have a whole post planned on alternative forms of accommodation that can save you a hella lotta money, but for now I’ll just say this: look into renting an apartment/flat/house for the weekend or a week. If there’s two or more of you then it will, no doubt, be considerably cheaper. You not only have more freedom if you want to cook your own meals, too, but it feels like you are living more locally as well – something I always try to experience in a new place. There’s hostels too, of course, if that kind of thing floats your boat, and I hear they’re awesome and reasonably-priced.
Lisbon’s not the cheapest city, but you can certainly make it into a budget break if you go about it the right way. Choose where you eat wisely, get familiar with the transport, visit museums on a Sunday and, last but not least, avoid hotels at all costs.